🚀 Are Design Subscription Agencies Killing UX? 🤔

15 Dec 2022

As I’ve recently started my own design studio and am deciding on which path to take it down I’ve been asking myself a pressing question: Are design subscription agencies inadvertently compromising the reputation and practice of UX?

In an era where almost every design influencer is farming engagement using their stories of success with this model it’s essential to scrutinise whether this helps or hinders my chosen passion/career.  Here’s what concerns me:

  1. Lack of understanding: Most agencies are forcing a ‘no meeting’ process in which the client simply leaves a task with a short description as a brief. This is convenient but would often lack the required context or continued understanding that’s required to build the right thing the right way. 

  2. Good is not equal to great: Quality design thrives on iteration. I’ve seen sone agency owners gloat about being able to design something once and be done with it. The client may be happy but we’re hired to apply our expertise, which means going past the clients circle of knowledge/comfort and apply critical UX thinking and process. Having radical condor and pushing back when necessary has been one of the greatest tools I’ve used.

  3. Juggling focus: The goal is usually to get more clients that unfortunately results in increased context switching and less deep work. My years at Google and Immutable have reinforced to me the importance of having clear focus time to deliver high quality, especially in chaotic fast-paced environments. Without this, details get missed and you’re not able to do your best work. Limiting the amount of clients you take on may seem counter-productive, but may increase the quality of your output.

  4. The invisible designer: Relationships are core to a healthy work environment and increase your chances of future work and referrals. It sounds so easy to simply force every communication through a trello board but you’re definitely going to feel less like a valued member of a team, less likely to be able to influence and more likely to be easily replaced. I believe there are two core ingredients to a healthy career: challenging work and positive team culture. These are two things I’d never sacrifice.

Can this be solved? I don’t know for sure yet but I’m giving it my best shot. The first client I’ve chosen for Halaska Studio is a 3 month engagement where I’ve embedded myself into a team to completely immerse and allow work with them through each challenge of their new product launch. So far this immersion has allowed me to collaboratively deliver UX solutions, effectively direct my studio staff and influence outside conventional UX roles through discussions and questioning, so far addressing the concerns I’ve been pondering.

Let's keep the conversation going! How do you think we can balance convenience and quality in the world of design subscription agencies?

Chris Halaska